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Question

818. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice the actions being taken to address lengthy waiting lists for mediation services provided by the Legal Aid Board; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21700/21]

819. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Justice the number of persons on waiting lists for mediation services provided by the Legal Aid Board in County Donegal; the average length of time waiting; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21701/21]

Answer

Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): I propose to take Questions Nos. 818 and 819 together.
The Legal Aid Board is the statutory, independent body responsible for the provision of civil legal aid and advice to persons of modest means in the State, in accordance with the provisions of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995 and the Civil Legal Aid Regulations 1996 to 2017. The Act was amended by Section 54 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011, which gave the Board the additional responsibility to provide a family mediation service.
Section 3(3) of the Act provides that the Board shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be independent in the exercise of its functions.
However, to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made with the Legal Aid Board, and I am informed that, civil legal aid and advice is provided primarily through a network of law centres by solicitors employed by the Board. There are 30 full time and 12 part time law centres. 
Family mediation services are provided through 8 full time offices and 9 part time offices. The Legal Aid Board has established a number of co-located centres in Portlaoise, Kilkenny, Jervis House in Dublin, Dundalk, Letterkenny, Limerick and Tallaght. These centres operate a full time law centre and either a full or part time mediation centre. Court-based family mediation services are available in a number of courts around the country including Dolphin House in Dublin, Ennis, Carlow and Mullingar.
The waiting times for family mediation services as of 26 April 2021, are set out in the table below provided by the Board. I am informed that there is no waiting list for Ennis or Dolphin House, both of which provide a walk-in service. Information on the number of applicants awaiting an appointment and the length of time they are waiting in weeks is maintained by the Legal Aid Board on an office by office basis rather than by county. The Board advises that the number waiting may include some applicants who have already been offered appointments and have not been able to accept them for one reason or another. I am further advised that the current average waiting time for a mediation appointment across the country is 17 weeks.
The Board operates a co-located law and mediation centre in Letterkenny, Co. Donegal. As can be seen from the table below, the number of people awaiting a mediation appointment in this centre, as of 26 April 2021, stands at 13 and the longest time for a person awaiting a mediation appointment is 12 weeks. 
The Board offers short notice appointments to applicants that can accept a cancellation. Applicants with a pending Court date are offered priority appointments where possible.  Currently under Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions, the Board offers online and telephone appointments.  Many applicants have availed of mediation sessions through these mediums. However, I understand that some are choosing to wait until face to face mediation sessions can be facilitated. 
In Budget 2021, I provided an increased provision of over €2 million for the Legal Aid Board in 2021 bringing total funding of the Legal Aid Board to €44.6 million, a 6% increase. This will enable the Board to recruit additional staff and meet other costs to enhance delivery of all of its services across the country.
My Department also continues to work with the Legal Aid Board and other key stakeholders across the Justice Sector as part of a planned return to normal business levels under the Government’s “Covid-19 Resilience and Recovery 2021 – the Path Ahead”. 
In terms of broader reform, preparations are also being made by my Department for the formal establishment by Ministerial Order of the Mediation Council. The relevant details will be made known for public consultation and Oireachtas approval under the relevant provisions of the Mediation Act 2017.
Waiting times – 26 th April 2021 (in weeks)

Location No. waiting Waiting time in weeks
Athlone  10 6
Blanchardstown 54 28
Carlow*   15 16
Castlebar 10 8
Cork 39 16
Dundalk** 42 32
Galway 30 12
Jervis St**   84 32
Kilkenny**   7 4
Letterkenny**   13 12
Limerick 33 20
Mullingar*  8 12
Portlaoise**   14 12
Sligo 6 12
Tallaght   **  86 32
Tralee 12 12
Waterford 16 12
Wexford   28 32


*Court based
** Co-located law and mediation centre